In My Ohio

On Ohio's Children and Poetry

Darren C. Demaree
​Every so often I get to talk to children about poetry. I go into classrooms in different elementary schools in Ohio, and I spend an hour or two with a class or a collection of classes, and we spend the whole time talking about all of the things that poetry is and all of the things poetry can be for them. Each time I'm blown away by the enthusiasm they have for the subject, and how engaging their questions are.
Obviously, this begins with how well they have all been prepared for my visit, and how well their teachers are doing in teaching them about poetry. I was twenty before I knew some of the things these kids know. For example, today, I was in Massillon, with a classroom of nineteen children, and they explained to me (unerringly I might add) all about cinquains, tankas, and haiku. They told me all about the poems they have written about themselves, about their feelings, about their homes, about nature, and all of the things they can imagine. It was incredible.
When I decided that this was something I wanted to undertake, that I wanted to go to as many schools as I could, and talk about poetry it was because I assumed that the arts were so under-funded in Ohio that their teachers either wouldn’t spend time on it, and if they did, surely their passion for it wouldn’t equal mine. It was ego, ultimately, but I thought I could help broaden their educations and incorporate more poetry. The arts are under-funded, but their teachers are working valiantly through that. They know and love poetry already, and when I walk in the room they have some curiosities about the art that I help give some substance to, but they don’t need me there to find the same love that I did with this work. I’m not needed to expand Ohio’s love of poetry. Our teachers, thankfully, are doing that job and they are doing it incredibly well.
So, Ohio’s children have already been shown poetry, and they love it. Awesome. I get to be a cheerleader for them. I get an hour or an afternoon with them to show them how poetry can leave their classroom and travel; how it doesn’t have to be limited to their grade level. They can look at my picture on my books, and ask me questions about how and why I write. I can read some of the silly poems I’ve written about burping, water balloons, and how hard it is to say the word hippopotamus. We can laugh and have fun, and when I raise their adrenaline for the arts for a day or two, there doesn’t have to be a single worry about how their skilled teachers will harness that energy. I can do that. I can be an exciting new voice for a brief time, allow the teacher to sit down for a bit, and then I can get out of their way. They’ve got it all handled.
I’ll talk to anyone any time about poetry. I thought I would be filling a need if I spent some of that time in Ohio’s elementary schools, and the teachers and students do appear to appreciate my time, but they don’t need me. How tremendous is that?